Wednesday, 4 September 2013

From Short Story Writer to Novelist - An Interview with Cally Taylor

I'm always inspired and motivated by those short story writers who have successfully made the jump to publishing a novel.
Over the next six weeks, I’m SO excited to be interviewing some of those writers who prove it can be done. Patsy Collins, Della Galton, Jill Steeples, Karen Clarke, Cally Taylor and Sarah England have all very kindly agreed to be interviewed here at Writing Allsorts.

Kicking off the interviews today is the very lovely, Cally Taylor. 

Welcome to Writing Allsorts, Cally. Please tell us a bit about your success as a short story writer.

I started writing short stories in 2005 and, after dozens of rejections, got my big break in September 2006 when my story 'Wish You Were Here' came second in the Woman's Own short story competition and was published in the magazine.

Shortly afterwards I started an online critique group called 'A Story a Fortnight' where we wrote womag stories to prompts every fortnight  and critiqued and scored each other's anonymously posted stories. The group was HUGELY successful (well, it did include Sally Quilford, Karen Clarke and WomagWriter!) and, between us, we had hundreds of stories published by womags in the UK and abroad.

Whilst I was in the group I had stories published in Take a Break Fiction Feast and My Weekly (I never did manage to crack Woman's Weekly) and was placed in dozens of competitions including first prize in the Bank Street Writers, Lancet Fact to Fiction, Helen Mullin Awards, and Sedbergh Festival of Books and Drama short story competitions.

I took a break from short stories from 2007-2011 when I wrote and edited my first two novels 'Heaven Can Wait' and 'Home for Christmas' but came out of short story retirement in 2012 when I was commissioned to write a story for Your Cat magazine and Belinda Jones's hugely popular Sunlounger anthology.

This year I self-published 'Secrets and Rain', an ebook anthology of my previously published and prize winning stories. It went to #2 in the Women Writers Short Stories chart on and has been selling steadily ever since.

Please tell us about your journey from short story to novel.

Coming second in the Woman's Own competition was the boost to my confidence that I needed to start writing a novel. That and the fact a friend from school died suddenly aged 33 and her death made me realise that I had to stop making excuses why I wasn't ready to write a novel and do it NOW!

In 2007 I wrote 'Heaven Can Wait' like a woman possessed and finished the first draft in 3 months and 3 weeks (writing every night after work). Editing it took longer (7 months) and, in September 2008, I sent it off to six agents I'd selected from the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I had a few 'nearly' rejection letters and then Darley Anderson rang me to request the full manuscript. Darley's second phone call wasn't quite so positive. The manuscript had potential, he said, but it needed to be pacier and funnier if it stood any chance on the market and I'd have to rewrite it before he considered representing me. I was gutted but, after a brief sulk, set about rewriting.

I sent it back in six months later and, two weeks after that – in early 2008 - Madeleine Milburn, who worked for Darley as Head of Foreign Rights, rang me to say she'd read my revised manuscript and had loved it so much she'd asked him if she could represent me. He said yes and, within a year, she'd got me a two book deal with Orion (it was published in 2009) and sold it to fourteen publishers abroad.

My second novel, 'Home for Christmas' came out in 2011, six weeks after I gave birth to my first child! I promoted it with a small blog tour and a competition when the baby was napping (and I should have been too!).

I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation, the hormones or a burst of recklessness that made me do it but, in 2012 while I was on maternity leave, I decided to write a very different novel from my first two - a psychological thriller. The opening 1,000 words had won the RNA Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2011 and I was itching to write the rest. With Maddy's blessing I did. And now I have a 2 book deal with Avon HarperCollins writing psychological thrillers under the name of CL Taylor. The first book, 'The Accident', comes out in June 2014.

Tell us about your novels.  

My romantic-comedies are available online, in all good bookshops and in libraries and my short story collection is available on all Amazon sites (for £1.53 or $2.99 for a limited time). My psychological thriller isn’t out until June 2014 but will be available in paperback and ebook.

Heaven Can Wait (2009, Orion)

Lucy is about to marry the man of her dreams - kind, handsome, funny Dan - when she breaks her neck the night before their wedding. Unable to accept a lifetime's separation from her soulmate, Lucy decides to become a ghost rather than go to heaven and be parted from Dan. But it turns out things aren't quite as easy as that...

Homefor Christmas (2011, Orion)

Beth Prince lives by the seaside, works in the Picturebox - a charming but rundown independent cinema - and has a boyfriend who's so debonair and charming she can't believe her luck! There's just one problem - none of her boyfriends have ever told her they love her and it doesn't look like Aiden's going to say it any time soon. Desperate to hear 'I love you' for the first time Beth takes matters into her own hands - and instantly wishes she hadn't. Can Beth keep her job, her man and her home or is her romantic-comedy life about to turn into a disaster movie?

‘Secrets and Rain’: a heart-warming short story collection (2013, Kindle)

Twelve magical stories from the award-winning author of HEAVEN CAN WAIT and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. Grab a drink, put up your feet and lose yourself in these heart-warming tales of love, loss and hope. Peep inside the ‘Little Box of Wishes’, discover how ‘Two Red Balloons’ heal a rift between a mother and daughter and fall in love with Alfred, the ‘Rent-a-Cat’. 

If you’re a fan of the fiction in women's magazines you’ll love this collection of Cally's previously published stories. Also included – and available online for the first time - three prizewinning stories: ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘My Daughter the Deep Sea Diver’ and ‘Under the Waves’.

'Secrets and Rain is a treasure trove brimming over with captivating stories of life, loss and love. A truly wonderful collection that you won't want to end!'
Miranda Dickinson, Sunday Times Bestseller (Fairytale of New York)

The Accident (June 2014, Avon HarperCollins)

To the outside world Susan Jackson has it all – a loving family, a successful politician husband and a beautiful home – but when Charlotte, her fifteen year old daughter, deliberately steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma Sue questions whether any of it was real.

Desperate to find out what caused Charlotte’s suicide attempt, she is horrified by an entry in her diary – ‘Keeping this secret is killing me’. As Sue spins in desperate circles, she risks everything to discover the truth and finds herself immersed in a shady world she didn’t know existed. The deeper she delves the darker the world becomes and the more danger she puts herself in.

Can Sue wake up from the nightmares that haunt her and save her daughter, or will ‘the secret’ destroy them both?

Have you always wanted to write a novel, or was there a time when you thought you would only write short stories?

I've always wanted to write a novel. I sent my first attempt, written in crayon and bound to wool, to Penguin when I was eight years old. And received my first rejection letter by return post...

Do you still write short stories, and if so how do you juggle both?

These days I only write short stories if there's a specific reason - for a magazine for promo for a book coming out, for inclusion in an anthology (I wrote one for possible inclusion in the Crime Writers' Association anthology last month), for a commission etc - as I just don't have the time to write them for fun (which is gutting!).

I work as a manager for a London Uni four days a week and look after my toddler the rest of the time. That means I have to try and fit all my writing into my evenings and I'm so knackered it's all I can do to write 1000 words of a novel. There just isn't the time for stories too.

Which do you prefer to write, novels or short stories?

Both! I love how quick short stories are to write and you get that lovely buzz when you finish one. They're also great because, if one doesn't work out and you have to scrap it you haven't wasted a year of your life writing it. And you have the freedom to write about loads of different characters, different settings, different plots etc.

On the flip side novels are HUGELY satisfying to finish because they're so bloody hard to write, not to mention time consuming, but also because you build up a very deep, very real relationship with your characters. You can pour more of yourself into a novel, you can explore themes on a deep level and you can be adventurous with the plot and subplots. As satisfying as it is holding a magazine that features one of my short stories, nothing compares to weighing the weight of a novel you've written in your hands.

I guess short stories are like flings, whereas novels are like relationships, there's a time and a place for both.

Have you any advice to a short story writer who may want to move on to writing novels?

If you've had short stories published and you've worked hard on your craft there's no reason why you can't write a novel too. But do prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster that goes along with writing a novel. After your initial burst of enthusiasm you'll grow weary of it (round about the 10,000 word mark). At 30,000 words you'll hate it and come up with a new idea. You'll be tempted to ditch the novel for the new idea but don't do it, keep writing. You'll hate your novel again around the 60,000 word mark but push on. You'll probably have a massive burst of enthusiasm and energy as you approach 90,000-100,000 words (I  often write 6,000 words in one sitting) and when you type THE END you'll experience the biggest rush ever (or feel like it's the world's biggest anti-climax). The next day you'll feel quite, quite lost.

What do you feel is the main difference between writing a short story and a novel?

Stamina! (see above)

Which do you find easier to write, a novel or a short story?

Short stories, definitely. Some of my best ones were written in less than three hours. Novels often feel like they take forever!

Have you ever written a short story that you think would work well as a novel?

A few people who've read 'Secrets and Rain', my short story collection, have said they wished some of the stories were novels so they could carry on reading them, but no, I've never thought that. Although I did turn a novel idea into a short story for the 'Sunlounger' anthology (which is possibly why it ended up being 6,500 words long!)

If you no longer write short stories, do you miss it?

I write them rarely and I do wish I could write them more often.

What do you think are the pros and cons of moving from a short story to a novel?

Pros: Your work can be read more widely and in more countries, you'll (probably) earn more money, you'll build up a readership and receive the most wonderful fan letters/emails. And, every once in a blue moon, you'll get to go to swanky publisher parties!

Cons: Say goodbye to your social life – and possibly sleep - because you'll need every last minute to write, edit, copy edit, proof edit, foreign version edit, promote, market etc. And you'll miss the buzz of finishing a story, sending it off and watching your letterbox for brown envelopes!

If you have an agent or publisher, do you think being a successful short story writer helped get you noticed?

Absolutely. Maddy told me that the fact I'd mentioned competition wins and magazines I'd been published in in my cover letter was proof that I could write and that professional editors had found merit in my work.

Do you think being a published short story writer gave you the confidence to take the next step?

Oh yes! I've always believed in giving myself writing challenges and then using the boost to my confidence to try and achieve the next one. My first challenge was to be published online, then in a magazine, then win a competition, then write a novel, then get an agent and a deal. I saw each challenge as a rung on the ladder to writing success. Now my aim is to hang onto that ladder for dear life! Seriously, my challenges these days are for my next book to sell well, to build my readership, to write a bestseller, to have a book made into a bestselling film and to snog George Clooney on the red carpet (what?!).

Do you think self-promotion is an important part of being a novelist? If so, what are your thoughts on self-promotion?

It's a huge part of being a novelist these days and your agent and publisher expects you to do as much as you can. It's time-consuming, sometimes stressful and it eats into your writing time but a writer needs readers and it has to be done!


Cally Taylor is an author with two writing heads. Her Cally Taylor head writes romantic comedies and women’s fiction whilst her CL Taylor head writes dark psychological thrillers.

You can find out more about Cally below:

Blog 1: (for all Cally Taylor news)

Blog 2: (for all CL Taylor news)

‘Secrets and Rain’ – Cally’s heart-warming short story collection is out now. Why not treat yourself to copy! 

'Her Last Lie' is Amanda Brittany's debut psychological thriller published by HQ Digital/HarperCollins. It's OUT NOW and can be downloaded HERE 


Karen said...

Lovely interview :o) I do think writing short stories helps hugely when it comes to plotting a novel, and subbing and selling short stories helps keep the spirits up during the much longer slog of novel-writing.

Can't wait to read Cally's thriller!

Jill Steeples said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed reading Cally's answers.

Joanna said...

Thank you for a really absorbing and helpful interview. It was so good to read about the likelihood of hating the novel after ten and sixty thousand words, as I have experienced exactly that.
The change from short story to novel writing is definitely not easy, but I agree that it is hugely rewarding and your post has been a great boost to the process.
Very best of luck with the The Accident, which looks like a fantastic read. I have just started Secrets And Rain and it is absolutely lovely.

Wendy's Writing said...

I loved reading this interview. As a short story writer, I often wonder (but that's all I do!) what it would be like to cross that line from short to long. I loved Cally's anthology of short stories and look forward to the reading the psychological thriller when it comes out next year. Thank you both.

Kath said...

Brilliant interview. Thanks, Cally and Mandy x

CL Taylor said...

Karen - absolutely! And all those short story rejections help toughen your writer's hide for the scary world of novel submissions. Can't wait to read your interview to see if your answers differ.

Jill - thanks fellow SAFer! :) Can't wait to read your interview too.

Joanna - thank you so much for your kind words about the interview and my anthology. So glad you found the interview helpful. Having spoken to authors who've written WAY more novels than me it seems that the 10,000 word doubt, 60,000 word slog etc still happen no matter how experienced you are (and there was me hoping it would get easier!)

Wendy - thank you for your lovely comment. I really hope people like the thriller. I'll be very nervous in June next year.

Kath - thanks so much.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Great interview. Cally, you're inspiring. Great covers, btw.

Anonymous said...

What a great interview! Brilliant questions and inspirational answers. Thanks to both of you! Edith:)

Amanda said...

Thank you so much everyone for dropping by. I'm so glad you've all enjoyed Cally's brilliant interview.
:-) XX

Talli Roland said...

Yay for Cally! Great interview - I've read both her novels and really enjoyed them.

CL Taylor said...

Joylene - thank you, but I can only take credit for one of them (Secrets and Rain). And only then because I commissioned it! ;)

Inaroomofmyown - they were great questions weren't they? Really enjoyed answering them.

Mandy - thanks for having me!

Talli - cheers lovely.

Amanda said...

Thanks for popping in, Talli